Dropping Acid: 3 Key Ingredients to Treat Every Skin Type, From Aging to Acne-Prone

Learn how incorporating acid into your regimen can get you the smoother, younger, and clearer skin your wash-rinse-repeat routine never will.

Photograph courtesy of Michael Baumgarten/Trunk Archives.


Photograph courtesy of Michael Baumgarten/Trunk Archives.

Acids—you may have snoozed through that part of chemistry class, but now it's time to pay attention. From glycolic to lactic to salicylic, these alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs) are powerful ingredients to stockpile in your skin-care arsenal. Whether you're concerned about acne or antiaging, cleansers, creams, and treatments containing the right acid can exponentially improve the results you're getting from simply washing and moisturizing daily.

Read on to learn how incorporating acids into your regimen can get you the smoother, younger, and clearer skin the average wash-rinse-repeat routine never will.

Glycolic acid: For acne-prone and uneven skin tones

Derived from sugar, glycolic acid deeply penetrates skin to weaken the binding of dead skin cells and expose fresh, live ones. It works wonders on wrinkles, acne scarring, hyperpigmentation, and large pores, and improves overall skin tone. A chemical peel from your dermatologist, plastic surgeon, or aesthetician will likely use a concentration of 20 to 70 percent—a highly effective treatment for getting younger, glowing skin fast. But repeat visits are costly and can leave sensitive skin red and irritated immediately after treatment. For gentle and more gradual results, look for a lower percentage of glycolic acid in your daily skin-care products. Try Port Products Detoxifying Daily Cleanser containing glycolic acid to gently rid skin of dead cells and keep pores unclogged while you cleanse.

Lactic acid: For dry, sensitive, aging skin

It's said that Cleopatra bathed in sour milk to improve her skin. While that may have worked for the goddess of the Nile, those of us with schedules that don't allow for nightly milk baths can get a similar effect with a topical lactic acid, which is derived from fermented milk. While other AHAs have been known to irritate people with skin conditions like acne or rosacea, lactic acid is typically safe for any skin type. Again, your dermatologist or facialist can perform a series of highly concentrated lactic-acid peels to reduce wrinkles or discoloration, but you can also find this powerful ingredient in at-home lotions and creams. Lactic acid locks in moisture while exfoliating, stimulates collagen production, and reduces the appearance of fine lines. Try Urth Skin Solutions for Men Botanical Resurfacing Mask once a week or Billy Jealousy Liquidsand Exfoliating Cleanser as a pre-shave treatment that also reduces fine lines and signs of sun damage.

Salicylic acid: For oily, acne-prone, or irritated post-shave skin

You're probably already familiar with this as a blemish treatment. Derived from willow-tree bark, salicylic acid has natural anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. Salicylic acid is a BHA, the category of acids highly effective in treating acne and excess oil production, but it's also just as useful for healing razor burn, ingrown hairs, and even dandruff. It's powerful stuff, so you'll typically see only 2 to 3 percent in a product, and unless you're plagued by serious acne, start by applying only to problem areas, as too much can dry out or irritate your skin. Try Urth Skin Solutions for Men Post Shave Elixir, which contains both lactic and salicylic acids to effectively treat post-shave redness, bumps, and blemishes.

Pro tip: Acids leave skin looking amazing because they slough off dead cells, which has the side effect of leaving fresh skin more vulnerable to sun damage, so always apply a moisturizer with sun protection.

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